Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 10, 2020

Apeirogon, by Colum McCann

Readers who were following my adventures at various virtual author talks this year may remember my enthusiasm for a Jewish Book Week conversation between Melbourne author Mark Raphael Baker and Irish author Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon, which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.  I reserved Apeirogon at the library there and then, and as luck would have it, it came to me two weeks ago, along with six other hefty reserves, and hard on the heels of Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World.  

The irony of this juxtaposition is not lost on me.  Susan Abulhawa’s novel is an apologia for terrorism, and whether you believe that terrorism can be justified in desperate straits for a worthy cause or not, it’s a disconcerting novel to read.  Irishman Colum McCann comes from a country long wracked by conflict including terrorism which the Irish refer to euphemistically as ‘the Troubles’ — but a peace sometimes uneasy reigns there since the Good Friday Agreement.  The two novels could not be more different.

There are numerous reviews of Apeirogon and the book is due back today so I’ll keep my own brief.  You can read

Based on the true-life friendship of two men whose daughters were killed in the Middle East, this novel buoys the heart.

Given the longevity of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the intransigence of both sides, that sentiment may be naïve, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to hope for some kind of lasting resolution to the conflict.  By writing from the vantage point of two real-life fathers bereaved by the conflict, who have spend years since their daughters’ deaths working together for peace, McCann shows that there is possibility.

But he also shows how fragile that possibility is.

The book, as you can read in those other reviews, combines fact and fiction.  Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan are real people and the story of the Parents Circle is real too.  You can see heartbreaking images of their daughters Abir Aramin and Smadara Elhanan online as well.  The book derives from the author’s extensive interviews with these men and he himself calls the book a hybrid…

with invention at its core, a work of storytelling which, like all storytelling, weaves together elements of speculation, memory, fact and imagination. (p. 461)

Much is made of its structure, its peculiar name, the symbolism of birds and so on.  I find myself unable to untangle whether any of that artifice contributed to the powerful message of reconciliation and healing or not.  But the narrative voice is compelling, and urgent, and hopeful.  And that made the sleepless nights worthwhile.

Highly recommended.

Author: Colum McCann
Title: Apeirogon
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2020
ISBN: 9781526607911, pbk., 463 pages
Source: Bayside Library


Responses

  1. I enjoy McCann’s writing and have loved quite a few of his books, although this one hasn’t appealed to me. You’ve made me think I should start reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it deserves to be widely read… the Booker longlisting has probably helped with that…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Curiously, I had no interest whatsoever in reading this book…until your review. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wasn’t interested either, until I heard them talking about it at the MJBW. And now I can’t get it out of my head…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m really looking forward to this one, but will have to wait until I can borrow a copy without needing to rush to return. The idea of the fragmented and interconnected bits and pieces really appeals to me; I feel like this situation would require an exhausting assembly (and disassembly) process, to try to capture the kaleidoscopic nature of all the related positions. Too bad you had it come in with so many others, but it sounds like you made the best of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, as sometimes happens with library books, I found myself thinking I should have bought it. But during lockdown there’s been a problem of supply with international books because with the borders closed, the number of flights coming into Australia nose-dived. Things are getting back to normal now, but at the time I heard the author and realised I wanted to read the book, my favourite bookseller wasn’t taking orders for international books, and any existing stocks that had a high profile like this one were snapped up very quickly. Just another little side-effect of C-19!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s very interesting: thanks for explaining. I suppose for those who have the option of reading epubs that that has had less of an impact. Here we can still order from an indie bookshop (their doors are closed, but they can deliver, if they pivoted their business model to allow for that) and have the books in a week or two (faster if you shop online via bigbox empires). But we also have about 2,000 new cases/day in this province right now.

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        • Whereas we have no cases, apart from returning travellers bringing it with them. The virus is all but eliminated here in Victoria, and we have strict quarantine for most people entering the country. (For some bizarre reason, aircraft crew are exempt, which has led to three cases in New South Wales.)
          We are lucky Australia is an island and we can close borders effectively. Having to wait a while for some of the books I want is a small price to pay for that.
          I could, as you say, get them in eBook format, but I have so many other books to read anyway, I’d rather wait for most things, especially since Amazon doesn’t need my business whereas local booksellers do.

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  4. I’ve had this on my shelf for the longest time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It *is* a big, thick book… and it’s one you have to be in the mood for.

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  5. This was selected by one of our book club members as his book of the year. It seems very much in line with the way McCann has written his previous novels – a fragmentary narrative that mixes fact and fiction.

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    • TBH I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by McCann up till now: Parts of Dancer were tedious and the writing was uneven, and I abandoned the over-hyped Let The Great World Spin. But I like that he seems to want to write about great world events and burrow into the impact on ordinary people.

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      • I struggled with Let The Great World Spin. I did get to the end but had no real idea why I persevered so much. Transatlantic was better – more cohesive I thought

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        • Maybe I should try that one… but then again, I’ve got so many other books to read that I have no doubts about…

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  6. […] Apeirogon by Colum McCann, Bloomsbury, see my review […]

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  7. […] had a novel she could barely follow, with a tiresome central metaphor involving birds.  (This one?)  Clay had the kind of book he normally had, a slender and unclassifiable critique of the way we […]

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